Judge throws out another talc verdict against Johnson & Johnson

A California judge threw out a $417 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson after a jury agreed her use of the company's baby power contributed to her ovarian cancer. File photo by Dan Peled/EPA

Oct. 22 (UPI) — A California judge tossed out a $417 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, the second verdict involving its baby powder that was reversed in the past week.

In a 51-page ruling late Friday, California Superior Court Judge Maren Nelson ruled the health products company wasn’t required to warn a woman, who has since died, that its baby powder could cause ovarian cancer. She granted a new trial after finding “serious misconduct” on the part of the jury, insufficient evidence and excessive damages.

On Tuesday, a Missouri appeals court’s ruling voided a $72 million talc powder verdict. The court said Missouri was not the proper jurisdiction since the 62-year-old woman was from Birmingham, Ala.

Johnson & Johnson, the world’s largest healthcare company, which is based in New Jersey, faces 5,500 claims in U.S. courts.

In California two months ago, a Los Angeles jury awarded Eva Echeverria $70 million in compensatory damages and $347 million in punitive damages — the largest verdict against the company to date. Echeverria, who started using the talc powder product when she was 11, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007.

A surgeon removed a softball-sized tumor, but she died on Sept. 20. Studies have linked Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder, on the market since 1893, with cancer.

The parent company was held responsible for $408 million of the total verdict and the rest went against the Johnson & Johnson consumer unit.

But Nelson said that under the law the parent company, which is a legally separate entity from the subsidiary, can’t be held liable for non-disclosures for a product it doesn’t manufacture or market. The judge also said there was no convincing evidence that any of the Johnson & Johnson companies acted with malice and should have to pay punitive damages.

The judge also threw out compensatory and punitive damages against Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc.

“The best that can be said is that there was, and is, an ongoing debate in the scientific and medical community about whether talc more probably than not causes ovarian cancer and thus gives rise to a duty to warn,” Nelson said. “Clear and convincing evidence of malice is lacking.”

Company spokeswomen Carol Goodrich said in a statement that “the science is clear and we will continue to defend the safety of Johnson’s Baby Powder as we prepare for additional trials in the U.S.”

Mark Robinson, a lawyer for plaintiff Eva Echeverria, plans to appeal.

“We disagree with the court’s decision,” he said in a statement. “A jury of Ms. Echeverria’s peers found the Johnson & Johnson defendants liable. We will ask the appellate court to uphold this jury’s verdict. We will continue to fight on behalf of all women who have been impacted by this dangerous product.”

The judge faulted the jury for including attorney fees and taxes into its calculation of compensatory damages.


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